“Wear, Love, Give”.
Founder of Pala Eyewear, John Pritchard, seeks to deliver lasting change, empowerment and opportunity through funding eyecare projects across Africa whilst creating sustainable sunglasses.
In his early twenties he set off travelling across numerous African countries, soaking in the breath-taking views and welcoming cultures. After returning from his travels John read an article on the global problem of the lack of access to eyecare. There are 1.2 billion people worldwide with poor vision simply because they are unable to receive basic surgery or access glasses, and Africa has 73% more visually impaired people than any other region in the world.
He thought, why not create kind to the planet sunglasses that give back through eye care projects? And so… Pala Eyewear was born! By joining the dots and helping others to see, these sunglasses are designed for those who acknowledge the need for a better future, appreciate the world we live in and embrace the adventure of exploring it.
We sat down with John to learn a little more about Pala Eyewear including where the idea came from, the brands impact and what they see on the horizon for this wonderful brand.
Q: Where did the idea of Pala Eyewear come from?
A: My initial spark stemmed from a desire to do something with my life that provided me a genuine sense of purpose – to make a tangible difference to the lives of others and not just my own. I did not want to sit back in my rocking chair in 30 years’ time (or something much more futuristic) knowing that I hadn’t tried to do something positive and lasting during my short stay on this planet. Setting up my own business and putting a social cause at the heart of it was my way of doing this, giving me that purpose that I was seeking.
The seed of the idea was planted almost ten years ago now. Unusually perhaps for a business I started by looking to identifying a cause first rather than coming at it from a product angle. That cause, as I go into more detail later was eyecare in Africa. 1.2 billion people worldwide have poor vision simply because they are unable to receive basic corrective surgery or access glasses, and yet a pair of spectacles is recognized as the number one most effective tool to fight poverty – it empowers the wearer by enabling them to read, learn and work. Simple, yet so very so effective.
So that was the cause established. I then went about developing a product that would connect to this cause and the natural association with eyewear made sense. So in truth sunglasses was never the starting point. I had no knowledge of fashion, even less of the eyewear market, so had to learn pretty fast and build a team of far more knowledgeable people around me who could steer me in the right direction.
How does Pala Eyewear make an impact?
We work with charity Vision Aid Overseas, uniting the sales of our sunglasses to providing grants directly into their eyecare projects in Africa. 10% of the world’s population are unable to access eyecare, yet a pair prescription glasses are one of the most cost-effective poverty alleviating tools you can give someone. They empower the beneficiary to read, learn and work. We recently completed the refurbishment of a vision centre in Chinsali, Zambia serving a population of over 75,000.
We also work with three weaving communities in Bolgatanga, Ghana who make our unique cases from recycled plastic bags and waste. The plastic is washed, cut and twisted into yarn, then woven just like straw to form the unique case – a more sustainable solution for the weavers who would otherwise be limited to the seasonal availability of straw. We pay them more than twice the minimum wage to help them to help empower themselves out of poverty.
Why did you decide to become a social enterprise?
For me it was simply a case of having purpose in my work. With such inequality around the world, I felt I was in a position of advantage where I could attempt in some small way, to bring some balance. For me it was about standing up for an ideal or acts to improve the circumstances for communities and individuals who do not have the means to cope or compete without the necessary assistance.
Pressures on the planet, resources and population are coming sharply into focus right now, and I feel now more than ever, we need the collective will of people to be filled with a sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare. By adopting this mindset we will tackle and overcome social injustices, creating an overall better and safer world.
What’s your top tip to budding social entrepreneurs?
You have to be genuinely invested in your product and story. It takes a very long time to grow a brand, it takes long hours and is financially demanding. You therefore need to be really passionate about what you are doing and why you are doing it, because it becomes your life! Take your time to identify that uniqueness you can bring to the market and be patient. If you have a good product, good story and good channels of communications then that market will come to you.
What makes your sunglasses so special?
This season our sunglasses are all made from Italian bio-acetate. This means no use of harmful plasticers that are normally used in acetate production and the frames are 100% bio-degradable. For our black frames we use recycled acetate, re-using acetate offcuts from the manufacturing process. We would love our lenses to be plastic free too, but there are no satisfactory options in the market at the moment. However it is certainly our goal to be certified plastic-free within the next 12 months.
Where’s the best place you’ve taken your Pala sunglasses?
I don’t tend to do much overseas travel, but I do try and get over to Africa every few years to cover the projects we are involved in, so pick any from Ethiopia, Ghana or Zambia – each has provided unique cultural experiences. However if we were looking at the ultimate staycation, for me it has to be the west coast of Scotland. Simply stunning, peaceful and a great place to re-charge.
What does the future have in store for Pala eyewear?
We have a few exciting things on the horizon. We are just launching our takeback scheme for any of customers who purchase in the UK, we will provide the opportunity to send us back up to three old frames for us to responsibly recycled through Terracycle. My dream is that we take more frames out of the system than we are putting in.
We have also recently applied to be a BCorp – arguably the most credible assessment/certification a company can use to measure its impact on its workers, community, environment, and customers. I really feel this will become a benchmark for businesses in the future. It’s a rigorous process, but hopefully we’ll have some positive news towards the end of the year.
Finally, we are looking at launching an optical range in the Autumn, and there is certainly more to come there in due course. So we’re being kept busy. Just the small issues of Covid-19 and Brexit to deal with and then we should be fine!
Thank you so much to John for sharing this background and insights. Explore the full range of Pala Eyewear sunglasses here.
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